The Maple Leafs found themselves in engaged in a physical affair with the Jets on Saturday. With it, came a whole new feel to watching the Leafs. They were engaged by Winnipeg, and they responded with force.
“It seemed like it was right after puck drop that we had something going,” said Nazem Kadri, who had a goal and assist. “A lot of words were being said out there, that’s the emotion of hockey. Those are the types of games that I really enjoy playing in.”
Kadri’s offensive output matched his linemate Daniel Winnik. With the physicality at a max, Winnik did one better, getting into a fight with Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot, completing the ‘Gordie Howe’ hat trick.
“I think they had the idea that they were going to push us around and we were just going to take it,” said Winnik. “But I thought we did a good job meeting their push. Everyone was physical, everyone was giving (and) taking hits. Even at whistles it got chippy throughout the game.
Prior to tonight, the Leafs were on the wrong end of one-goal games during their last five contests. Tonight, they snapped that, thanks to goals from Leo Komarov – who is still a lucky charm given the Leafs have never lost in regulation when he scores (8-0-1) – and James van Riemsdyk, who scored his first goal in 11 games
“There’s no secret I’ve been in a little bit of a slump in the goal scoring department,” van Riemsdyk said. “Hopefully this can kick-start me down the stretch here.”
James van Riemsdyk’s goal drought matched goaltender Jonathan Bernier’s win drought. The goaltender made 30 saves for his first win since Jan. 9.
An unlucky bounce led to one of Winnipeg’s goals early on. The game had the makings of being like some of the other ones Toronto have had of late. This time they had the resolve.
“It feels great. We stuck with it, they got a lucky bounce on the first one and with the way it’s been going I was really impressed with the way we handled it,” said Bernier. “We kept going and we got some big goals.”
Morgan Rielly continues to impress.
With the Leafs where they are in the NHL standings, the sophomore defenceman continues to log a lot of ice-time and he’s definitely making the most of it. In back-to-back nights, Rielly logged 51:52 ice time, and was the leader in plus minus at plus-3.
“We made some mistakes and maybe that was fatigue from playing (the night before) on their goals,” said Interim coach Peter Horachek. “But our response was positive, we responded and tied the game up, they came back and we didn’t fold the tents, we stayed mentally strong and continued to push and continued to come back and when we made mistakes we corrected them very quickly.”
Joffrey Lupul made his return to the lineup after sitting out four games with a lingering lower-body injury. His return meant Brandon Kozun sat out.
A good all-round effort for Toronto, but much work lies ahead. They need to show an ability to build off this win. They have until Thursday to work in it. The Leafs haven’t won back-to-back games under Horachek, and haven’t done it since winning six-straight games in December.
Time to build.